Kurds Cry Out for Help as Damascus Looks On
By Samuel Stolle
The war in Syria continues to burn on. In January, Turkish military forces and Free Syrian Army fighters launched a new operation to dislodge the Kurdish YPG from the northern Kurdish-controlled region of Afrin, reports BBC. Turkey’s operation does not appear to have a quick end in sight.
Beginning on January 20, Turkey launched “Operation Olive Branch” to drive the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, YPG, out of the Syrian Afrin region, which the YPG controls, says BBC.
Turkey justifies its invasion as an anti-terrorist operation. According to the pro-government Turkish newspaper Daily Sabah, the Turkish military’s position is that “the sole purpose of the operation is to get rid of terrorists.”
According to the BBC, Turkey accuses the YPG of having links with the Kurdish Worker’s Party, PKK, which is recognized by Turkey and many other states internationally as a terrorist organization. The PKK itself is a Kurdish rebel group in Turkey that has been fighting against the Turkish state for the last several decades.
Soon after Turkey began its invasion, the Kurds, in a surprise move, issued a call for help to Damascus. The Syrian Kurdish Hawar News Agency, ANHA, carried a statement issued by the Kurdish authorities of Afrin saying, “We call upon the Syrian state to carry out its sovereign duties towards Afrin and protect its borders with Turkey from attacks by the Turkish occupier. Where it has not done its duty so far.” The BBC notes that there is still no direct response from Damascus.
While Damascus has not responded militarily, it has not ignored Turkey’s actions. The Syrian government Syrian Arab News Agency, SANA, continues to report on the effects of “the Turkish Aggression on Afrin,” through reports on civilian deaths and destruction.
Currently, there does not appear to be a clear and quick end in sight for Turkey’s operation. Daily Sabah quotes Turkish President Erdoğan saying, “We will continue Operation Olive Branch until all targets are achieved. After that, Manbij will also be cleared of terrorists, as it was promised to us… And after that, we will continue our struggle until all terrorists are eliminated.”
American troops are also currently based in Manbji, a fact that may in the coming weeks or months be a source of serious trouble if Washington and Ankara remain unable not reach an agreement.
According to military claims reported in the Turkish opposition newspaper Hürriyet Daily News, Turkey has killed, incapacitated, or captured 649 militants in Afrin as of the end of January. Not all of the militants are Kurdish or belong to the YPG.
Meanwhile, the effects of the Syrian War continue to play out elsewhere.
In Lebanon, refugees find themselves in an increasingly hostile environment. According to The Nation, Lebanon is putting in place more and more restrictions on Syrians seeking refuge on Lebanese soil, and is pushing for refugees to move back to Syria despite the reservations of refugees themselves and conditions on the ground. Lebanon fears the effects the prolonged stay of Syrian refugees might have on the country’s stability.
Despite the conflict, Damascus continues to campaign for tourism. According to The New York Times, the Syrian government is hoping tourists will begin returning to the country now that it has regained control of most its lost territory. Critics accuse the campaigns of ignoring the devastation the war has wrought and continues to bring.